“HELLP Syndrome, Pre-Eclampsia, and a Tiny Miracle” ~ Kristin’s Birth Story

My labor and delivery story began much sooner than I ever anticipated.

I was the open minded new first time mom. I read up all about birth and possible complications, read all about breast feeding and watched all “The Business of Being Born” documentaries. I hated hospitals and medication scared me more than the thought of the pain. I hired a doula because at the time my hubby was stationed in South Korea and my family was all located in Washington and California while I was in Colorado . I wanted to be prepared to have a birth partner at a moments notice. Just in case . I wanted and planned for a “natural as possible” birth. What I imagined and what was reality was the complete opposite .

Starting at week 30 I started feeling really run down . I started taking two naps a day and still felt groggy . I saw white and silver sparklers in my vision while in the shower or when bending over . I also started around 32 weeks getting daily upper belly pain . I voiced my concerns to an over the phone ob nurse line . No one seemed to concerned because my blood pressure was always excellent every visit . I also had a blood pressure cuff at home that always gave “normal results ”
Fast forward to 33 weeks 6 days: for about two weeks I had been having pain in my chest that would radiate to my upper back but I had already mentioned it to my midwife and was referred to a gastro specialist who basically told me nothing could be done till after I had the baby. They figured that my esophagus was being cramped due to lack of space so that was the “cause” of my chest and upper belly pain . My 34 week midwife appt at the clinic came and I felt pretty crappy that day. I woke up having a lot of consistent yet irregular Braxton hicks . I had mild nausea , fatigue and diarrhea. To be honest I almost cancelled the appt and rescheduled for the following week. I remember reluctantly telling my dogs “I’ll be back in a little bit” as I headed out the door up the street to the clinic. I waited for what felt like forever and for some reason they “forgot to check me in” yet there were literally three other patients named Kristin that day and every time a darn nurse walked into the waiting room looking up from a clipboard announcing “Kristin ” I had to repeat myself . Eventually I was seen and whose blood pressure wouldn’t be up after that ? My appointment was at 3pm and here I am just getting my vitals at 4:15pm! “157/96… That’s really high! Take some deep breathes , let’s do that again” the nurse filled the cuff once again with air as I was breathing deeply … “Hmmm” the machine started beeping : 147/93 . “I’m going to go get your midwife and she will decide where we go from here”

It was only mere minutes that I waited for my midwife. She came in and asked me in a jokingly “What have you been doing to get your bp so high?!”‘she laughed but didn’t seem too concerned. She mentioned pre eclampsia but didn’t want to jump to conclusions but told me I would be headed up to L&D to be monitored for a few hours . I sat in that little “triage room” in L&D , the little one with nothing interesting to look at even on the walls, the room where it’s decided if you are in “true labor” or not before they admit you , for hours. I peed in a cup twice , I had blood work done and then finally at 7pm a barrage of people enter my tiny triage room , well two nurses and an OB.  “Kristin , hello , I’m Dr.  So-in-so, your urine has significant amounts of protein in it and your blood pressure is not going down, now your baby is doing just fine but we are going to admit you over night. We are also going to give you a GBS swab right now and a shot to help develop the babies lungs ok ?!” But I never remember saying ok. I honestly don’t remember a lot after that whirlwind of information . I knew what pre eclampsia was . I had researched it. I knew possibly what the outcome would be and I got scared. My entire birth plan at that moment started slipping through my hands, and my husband! He’s not here! My family! No one is here! In a state of panic I called my doula . She gave me both reassurance and despair . Reassurance because she knew a lot about pre e and it was still possible to carry my little guy possibly closer to term on bed rest and possibly meds. Despair because she was to hop on a plane to Texas the very next morning. I remember having so much anxiety that entire night. Nurses had me doing a 24 hour urine collection and came in every few hours to draw new blood work . Not a single person was communicating to me what was really going on! In fact my night nurse told me before he left, “you’ll probably be released by mid morning ” the story was quite completely opposite according to my new morning nurse: “I’d say we better get this Red Cross message to your hubby ASAP because if this current blood draw I’m taking right now shows no improvement you will be transferred to another hospital”

At this point the anxiety was through the roof , I began making phone calls to all my family. The next hour would be the deciding moment. I had everyone on edge and on stand by. However when I saw the new OB walked in I knew what the answer was.  Dr. Sweezy was her name. “Your blood platelets are extremely low and your blood work is showing continuing signs of liver and kidney failure your body is in decline and your organs are shutting down . We need to transport you to a hospital downtown that can better care for you and your baby” as that hospital did not have a nicu . “I’m also starting you on a drip of magnesium sulfate before the ambulance comes to pick you up” I remember everything happening so fast. I called my mom and my mother in law and left it up to them to figure out who would be coming out . But would they make it in time? I had no idea ! And my doula! My doula is in Texas! This was NOT how I wanted this to go. This was not how I ever imagined it going . I sobbed. I had nice comforting nurses until it was time for the stupid magnesium drip. AS she is putting the drip in my port from last nights many blood draws, she says “fair warning …this IS going to make you feel icky” I remember panicking and thinking well “What the f*** is ‘icky’?!”
Icky came pretty quickly. The room got all floaty. I got hot and cold at the same time . My bones ached, I felt drugged and nauseous. I protested a good 15 minutes about getting in an ambulance after that. Dr. Sweezy was the one who finally convinced me after I told her “I was going to get a ride ” haha..riiiiight….

Upon arriving to memorial hospital downtown I was asked all kinds if questions and even to this day I don’t remember the exact questions. Just being set up in a delivery room . I was shaking so badly . At this point I was attached to two IV bags and when the nurse suggested we “do something about that anxiety ” I was more than all for it. And wow I will say after that everything shifted to every care in the world on my shoulders to … Not a care in the world. I guess I got a couple phone calls at that time but I barely remember the conversations if there were any. I went from wanting “the most natural ” to being hooked up to IVs and drugs galore. I had another specialist come in to do an ultrasound and remember the acronym: IUGR. Another side affect of pre eclampsia. Which stands for interuterine growth restricted. Also at this point in time I had not known I was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome a life threatening complication found in 1/1000 pregnancies. I was not told this until 2 days postpartum . Apparently no one wanted to “scare me” since I was already in a high state of anxiety .
The nurse that had administered the anxiety concoction in one of the IVs told me “well blood work is only getting worse , we won’t even have time for the other steroid shot , we will start pitocin ASAP ”

They started the pitocin at 1pm but I had actually been contracting regularly and dilating after the GBS swab. So I had already been in early stages of labor the night before , contractions 5 mins apart , 50% effaced and from a half cm dilated to a full cm after a few hrs . Everything truly was such a blur from the point of pitocin on. I handled the contractions pretty well. My rockstar doula found me a replacement doula that arrived through my door right as pitocin was being given. He specialized in massage and pressure points and did a fantastic job of putting pressure and heat on my back during each contraction. At 7:30 pm contractions began getting more intense after they broke my water. And My mom walks in!!  I was so thankful to hear her voice and see her face! It was a huge relief to have her there. It was her, my doula and a friend from church by my side all night.

At 9:30 pm I give in and ask for an epidural . I remember my whole belly itching but I got enough relief to sleep for a few hours . Around 12am : contractions are back and I can feel them intensely . I remember clinging to the rail of my bed moaning through them. I also had a weird sensation of drowning yet being so intensely thirsty and I was begging for ice chips then an iv of fluids. The nurses kept refusing fluids, because apparently at that time I was retaining so much water hence the drowning feeling. I’m told my brain also began retaining this water because I started hearing things that sounded like Mickey Mouse laughing and talking to the left of me. It was all very odd . Though I’m sure all the drugs didn’t help either!  At 5 am: the pain is intense I feel everything! How’s this possible with an epidural ? I remember thinking that. My face felt like it was on fire. Upon checking it was time! I was 10 cm. my hubby was on speaker phone the entire time. However pushing got exhausting and ineffective . I was so tired, so drugged, so sick. Laying on my back, the magnesium was contradicting the pitocin which was affecting contractions going from 2 mins apart at full dilation to 5-10 mins apart when it came to pushing . So it made for a long process to push out my tiny 34 week baby boy, which in “normal circumstances” I’m sure I could have gotten him out in one push.

At 7:33 am August the 4th. 6 weeks before my due date Liam Ryan Harris made his way earth side. Weighing in at a tiny 3 lbs 14 oz (almost 4 lbs!! ) and 18 inches long. He did not cry when was born and he had a low apgar score at 1 minute. Luckily he rebounded to a 9 at 5 minutes. I got to hold him for about 5 minutes before they wheeled him away to the nicu. I sent my mom with him. I was too sick to see him for 48 hrs. My hubby arrived via Red Cross on August 8th. My hospital stay was 8 days long. Liam’s was 25 days and he arrived home August 28th when I would have been 37 weeks 3 days. Weighing 5 lbs 5 oz.

The moral of my story is to trust your body and your intuition. You are your best advocate . If something feels off sound off an alarm! Get doctors to listen. This was not at all what I had “planned ” for my birth. However Liam and I are lucky to be alive and I credit it all to the medical professionals that took care of us!

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